As one of England’s most famous poets, William Wordsworth wrote his guide to the lakes back in 1810. A lot has changed since then, although most of the lakes and mountains and things are pretty much the same. So, it’d be worth picking up a copy of the guide to get a sense of the old-timey language and funny old things they used to do. But do keep reading for a modern take on the places to visit in Cumbria.
Typical country home in the Lake District, England
Saying that, we have a lot to live up to in terms of the literature, since the Lake District has long inspired some of the country’s greatest poets and writers. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Mary Lamb and Robert Southey are among the other literary greats to explore this scenic setting, while Beatrix Potter – famous for The Tale of Peter Rabbit – holidayed here. And that’s not to mention the historic towns around the rest of Cumbria (that’s right, the county exists independent of the lakes), with the likes of Carlisle among the highlights. We’ve used our experience at the Plum Guide to pick out some excellent lodgings, too, with our home critics doing everything possible to ensure that every detail will make your stay memorable.
The World of Beatrix Potter Attraction
One of the highlights of the region for the whole family, the Beatrix Potter museum brings to life the various children’s stories written by Beatrix Potter, who frequented the lakes and often holidayed in Cumbria. See the life-sized models of all the animals that feature in her books, which will either make for a very fun or a very confusing memory for your kids. Watch a performance in the theatre and tuck into cakes in the café. Don’t worry, you’ll walk it all off in the lakes.
The World of Beatrix Potter Attraction | Image by Scotland By Camera is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
This is like the A-lister of the bunch of water holes (that’ll do as a synonym for lake, won’t it?) in the Lake District. Visiting Lake Windermere comes top of most people's lists of things to do in Cumbria, and for good reason. The ‘mere’ part of the name actually means ‘lake’, so it’s really the Lake Winder Lake. It is long and narrow – well it seems narrow, because it’s so long, but it’s actually pretty wide… we mean, you couldn’t step over it, not by a long shot – and particularly scenic. Amble along the Lakeside Pier and enjoy the views of the water and its surrounding leafy hills. For something a little quieter, find a spot on the shore for a picnic by the Newby Bridge area. Take a trip on a boat out on the water. Or you could just hunker down in this gorgeous house on the lake's eastern edge.
While Lake Windermere is the only lake to make our list of the best things to do in England, other great lakes can be found on the mountain of Helvellyn, which makes for a steep hike that’ll burn off those cake calories you picked up at the World of Beatrix Potter Attraction. On the way up, consider stopping off at the Red Tarn lake. This bumpy area contains water from a glacier that formed the hilly topography quite some time ago. Bring a wet suit if you’re planning to get in; it’s pretty cold up here, and snow covers the mountains in winter.
Otherwise, take on the Catbells Lakeland Walk, explore the serene area of the Loughrigg Fell and arrive at the impressive waterfall of the Aira Force. Stay somewhere like the gorgeous Mellow Sage.
Carlisle is, without doubt, a place to visit – and it’s not even a lake. The city is known for its 12th-century fortress, the Carlisle Castle. Rummage through the city centre and get a sense of the culture in the pubs and restaurants. For some fine dining, try the exquisite Lounge on the Green, which has a wine bar. As for attractions, Carlisle spoils you for choice when it comes to cultural and educational places to visit in Cumbria, with the Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery and the Carlisle Cathedral among the highlights – check out the latter’s stunning stained windows.
Carlisle Castle on a sunny day, Cumbria, England
The countryside encompasses quite a lot of the county, so we couldn't not include it on our list of places to visit in Cumbria, even if it's technically more than one place. The point is that a trip to Cumbria isn’t just a choice between lakes and the city of Carlisle. Head south from the city to get to the Wordsworth Grasmere. Here, you can learn about the famous poet who lived and wrote many of his most-acclaimed poems in this house. Read up on his sister Dorothy’s journal to learn about a different time (you nosy so-and-so). If you're that much of a fan, you can even stay in this palatial manor named after Wordsworth.
Make your way to Kendal for the Lakeland Museum, with its exhibits teaching you about the regional history, art and culture. And go north for the iconic Hadrian’s Wall that dates back to the Roman times. Walk along parts of this 73-mile (118-kilometre) set of ramparts that separate Roman Britannia from Caledonia. (No, it isn’t the border between today’s England and Scotland. That's a little further north).